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Holmes’ father says he didn’t know son was ill

Colorado theater killer’s parent asks jury for mercy

Sadie Gurman Associated Press

CENTENNIAL, Colo. – The father of Colorado theater gunman James Holmes said he never suspected his son was mentally ill before the 2012 attack, but he and his wife became increasingly concerned about him when he stopped returning their phone calls.

Robert Holmes said the call they did receive was from their son’s psychiatrist, about a month before the shooting. She told them James Holmes was dropping out of his prestigious neuroscience graduate school program.

“We didn’t know he was seeing a psychiatrist,” the father said Tuesday, testifying in an effort to persuade jurors to spare his son’s life. After the psychiatrist called, Robert Holmes said he entertained the possibility that his son might have Asperger’s syndrome.

He said his wife sought more information from the doctor, who didn’t call back.

Robert Holmes said when he and his wife visited their son after his arrest, he “was clearly messed up” – his eyes bulging and his pupils dilated.

“He told us he loved us, but I could see there was something really wrong with him,” Robert Holmes said.

Robert Holmes also recalled that during a visit with his son about seven months before the attack, he noticed James Holmes had an “odd facial expression,” which he would be reminded of later when he saw his son’s mug shot after his arrest.

He said he noticed his son smiling and grimacing in December 2011. Immediately after the testimony, the defense showed the now-familiar mug shot of James Holmes smirking at the camera.

Under questioning by prosecutor George Brauchler, Robert Holmes acknowledged his son didn’t share much information with his family about his life in Colorado. He also acknowledged James Holmes had a “distant” relationship with his sister, Chris Holmes, who testified on James Holmes’ behalf Monday.

Robert Holmes said he has seen James Holmes in jail only three times because his son typically does not allow visitors.

He said his son was an “excellent kid,” and he still loves him.

While Robert Holmes occasionally glanced at his son during his testimony, the two did not acknowledge each other until near the end of the day. Robert Holmes mouthed something at this son, who waved slightly at him. They both smiled.

Robert and Arlene Holmes have attended every day of their son’s 12-week trial, but the couple had not spoken publicly since prosecutors denied their request for a pretrial plea deal to spare his life.

Jurors found Holmes, 27, to be legally sane and eligible for the death penalty. But his defense is trying to show mental illness reduced his moral culpability, so much so that capital punishment would not due justice.

Death sentences must be unanimous, and the judge has explained to jurors that their decision will be highly personal.

The defense has a twofold task during this phase of Holmes’ sentencing: They must persuade at least one juror that Holmes was deeply mentally ill, even if legally sane, and they must show he deserves mercy.

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